The best books on our relationship with nature

Kassandra Montag Author Of After the Flood
By Kassandra Montag

The Books I Picked & Why

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

By Mary Oliver

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

Why this book?

My first introduction to Oliver’s work came in high school when I read her collection of poetry and essays, Owls and Other Fantasies. She has the descriptive detail one may expect, but it’s the quality of her point of view that is most seducing, always full of wonder and attentiveness. In reading her work one is immediately aware that they’re in the presence of someone deeply in tune with nature, and somewhat disconnected from the hustle, striving, and often hollow rewards found in less natural environs. She was a balm to me back when I was a teenager, and she remains that for me today. Devotions collects poetry from all her different books over the many decades, and as such, it is a perfect introduction to someone new to her work.   


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Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

By Katherine May

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

Why this book?

I read Wintering during a winter in my own life—both literal and figurative. I’d felt thwarted in every direction, no growth in sight, and this book was not only a comfort but an essential reminder of how necessary fallow periods are for recovery. May’s book captures how our relationship with nature isn’t between two separate things, because we are a part of nature, our own lives have seasons that mimic the wider world. There is grace to be found in this message, a greater acceptance of limitations, and a recognition of its beauty.


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The Testaments

By Margaret Atwood

The Testaments

Why this book?

Atwood has written extensively about the relationship between humans and nature in many of her books, in many different forms. But I’ve chosen to highlight The Testaments because of the way Atwood explores the fallout of ideologies that stemmed from an environmental collapse. What Atwood does so brilliantly in her writing is continually revealing how human reaction to climate change can be as harmful as the mass ecological destruction and extinction itself. She serves up a cautionary tale for how our response—and our beliefs—will play a large role in what kind of changes define the future.


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The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry

By Wendell Berry

The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry

Why this book?

Wendell Berry writes in multiple forms—poetry, essays, novels—and also practices sustainable farming in rural Kentucky. The World Ending Fire is a compilation of essays spanning over fifty years of his work and displays his wide-ranging intellect and care for the natural world. He emphasizes individual responsibility and stewardship of the earth, but his tone never becomes pedantic or preachy. Instead, his passion and conviction are contagious, and I always feel a sense of gratitude and clarity when I read his words. 


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The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

The Road

Why this book?

Of all five books, this is the darkest and often not a pleasant or easy read. Nevertheless, I found the depiction of a father and son’s love against the backdrop of a decimated natural landscape to be moving, thought-provoking, and bracing. McCarthy uncovers how man’s moral fiber is tested by ruin, exploring ethics, love, and loss of resources through a devastating journey. It is a book that makes one question how they would survive catastrophe—and how much of their humanity would survive with them.


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